Another 'Right to Work' debate

House Republicans want to put Iowa's "right to work" law in the state Constitution:

House Joint Resolution 1, which advanced on a 2-1 subcommittee vote, would ask Iowa voters to inscribe current right-to-work language in the Iowa Code into the state constitution. The 1947 provision spells out that Iowans cannot be denied a job because they choose not to join a union and forbids union membership as a condition of employment, as well as barring fees or other charges to non-union members.

“Why do we need to put it into the Constitution? I don’t see the need of it,” said Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, a subcommittee member.

Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, chairman of the House Labor Committee, said the stronger constitutional protection is needed because there have been efforts in past sessions when Democrats controlled the Legislature that attempted to weaken the state law or even repeal it. Even though control of the current General Assembly is split between the political parties that may not always be the case in the future.

When Democrats controlled the whole Statehouse from 2007-2011, they couldn't even manage to get a watered-down "fair share" bill passed, along with several other labor bills that stalled. There's no real threat to right to work, but that's probably not going to stop the House from taking a symbolic vote on a resolution that won't be considered in the Senate.

It's a nice campaign issue for the GOP, and at last check, lawmakers are still politicians. And they can't get enough of constitutional amendment ideas. Guns, marriage, right to work, militias, red light cameras, etc.

It also gives Democrats a chance to show their loyalty to labor. Everyone wins. Nothing happens.

Heck, I once watched lawmakers bicker for hours over how prominently the words "right to work state" should be displayed on state government websites. (First, they come for the font size, then repeal!) So you need very little real provocation to spark a spirited right to work debate. A healthy imagination will do.

And if a future union wave is building to wash away the law, it's not yet in sight.

According to a new report from the Bureau of Labor statistics, union membership in Iowa declined between 2011 and 2012. Iowa's 2012 workforce of of 1.39 million people included 145,000 union members, or 10.4 percent of the workforce. That's down from 155,000, or 11.2 percent, in 2011. During the last decade, union membership in Iowa peaked at 161,000 in 2006, with a low of 141,000 in 2004.

The number of Iowa workers covered by a union contract, including members and non-members, also declined, from 187,000 in 2011 to 172,000 in 2012. In 2010, 192,000 workers were covered by union contracts.

Nationally, 11.3 percent of workers are union members, down from 11.8 percent in 2011. And only 6.6 percent of private sector workers belong to unions, compared to 35.8 percent of public sector employees.

And, as always, you have the right to weigh in.

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